The Short Empire was a medium range flying boat powered by four Bristol Pegasus radial engines. Designed and built by Short Brothers’ in Rochester, it first flew on 4 July 1936, taking off from the River Medway in Kent. First revenue services commenced in 1937.

Designed to connect the United Kingdom with the dominions of the British Empire, it reduced travel time quite substantially. For example, England to Australia takes over 40 days by ship, while the flying boats reduced this to 85 flying hours over 10 days. Nine overnight stops were taken en route as the aircraft did not fly at night.

Short Empire Flying Boat Video

Following on from the last video about the Fairey Rotodyne, this time we head back to the 1930s for a look at the Short Empire flying boat. The first video runs for a little under three minutes and is quite jubilant in its presentation.

Have you ever heard of a robopilot before? Clearly a precursor to today’s autopilot! The next video runs for just 47 seconds and even though it has a watermark, you do get to see the interior, food service and cocktails being made.

With a range of 1,220 kilometres and a cruising speed of 266 km/h, it was not particularly fast by today’s standards. However, this was the latest technology in the late 1930s.

How About One More Video?

Imperial Airways referred to the aircraft as the Short C Class, and each one had a name starting with C. The next video is a compilation of newsreel clips from the days it was in service.

Running for almost 10 minutes, it covers things such as the crash of Capricornus in France from 7:35. What is great is that the various clips give a great feel for how news was reported in this era, as well as how amazing people found this new technology.

Overall Thoughts

Short Brothers’ claimed, “We don’t built aircraft that float, we build ships that fly” and you can see this in the clips. The announcers refer to the aircraft as ships more often than not, as it really fell between two areas.

On board service was inaugurated on the flying boats and while there were no cooking facilities on board, passengers were served excellent meals. A typical breakfast consisted of grapefruit, steak and pineapple juice, while lunch could be ham, salad and strawberry ice cream.

Just 42 of these flying boats were produced from 1936 to 1940. They were operated by Imperial Airways (later BOAC), Qantas of Australia and TEAL (now Air New Zealand) and had a very short life, being withdrawn from service at the end of 1946, with final flights in 1947. Land planes had progressed to the point that flying boats were obsolete. As far as I am aware, none were preserved in museums.

What did you think of the flying boat videos? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Qantas Heritage Collection via
With thanks to Sydney Living Museums and History Ireland.